Updated: Mar 3
Have you ever wished you could travel back in time and be present for a momentous occasion in history? Today I’m going to give you step by step instructions about how to host a “Last Night on the Titanic” dinner party, complete with themed activity stations all around the ship (also known as your house), modern versions of the actual menu the night the ship went down, music, dancing, a visit from the Captain, and an unforgettable live action ending.
[NOTE: If you'd prefer to watch this discussion on YouTube instead, please CLICK HERE]
Now, I do want to acknowledge that the sinking of the Titanic was clearly a tragic event, in which over 1500 people lost their lives. April 14th, 1912 was obviously a very sad day in history. However, replicating historic events and inviting guests to participate in them actually allows people to viscerally understand what life was like in other eras and places… like what it really meant to be divided into classes, or to be separated from your spouse because only women and children were allowed in the lifeboats, or to watch the last lifeboat launch without you, or to be trapped on the third class decks! So this kind of event, in addition to celebrating Golden Age splendor also provides a unique opportunity for your guests to expand their comprehension and awareness of a different era, and potentially increase their levels of tolerance and compassion for people who didn’t have the advantages that they do. It’s sort of educational time travel!
So today we’re going to talk about the four major elements necessary to plan a glamorous, captivating, immersive, Last Night on the Titanic party: 1) Worldbuilding (how you’re going to turn your location into a turn of the century luxury liner), 2) your menu (customized for modern palates), 3) the activities that are going to elevate this party from a simple dinner to an immersive experience, and 4) your optional costuming.
How are we going to turn your house or apartment, common area, dorm room (whatever you’re working with), into a luxury liner sailing on April 14, 1912? With the power of suggestion. You’ve probably seen a simple theater set that suggests a location with just a few key set pieces. This is what we’re aiming for. We’re not going to turn your space into a ship, we’re just going to add a few carefully chosen items to suggest that your guests are on a ship.
Start by taking a look around your house for items you already have that can help you suggest a vintage nautical theme.
You’re looking for things that make you think of ships, like nautical flags, captain’s hat, porthole mirror, life buoy, and even life jackets. Remember to keep as these vintage as you can, so skip the country-chic lighthouse and cutesy anchor ornaments. Remember, we’re going back in time.
Look for some old travel decor, like suitcases, binoculars, maybe an old passport (which you can actually print out)
Think about some vintage Edwardian era decor like a top hat, and old wine bottles, maybe some gloves and pearls or even an old camera.
You can even frame some photos of the ship & the passengers like Jack and Rose & even the ocean.
Now make a pile of all the decor you found, see what’s missing, and think about borrowing things to fill in the gaps. You only want to spend money on just a few items for this party that make you happy and that you might use again.
You’re going to create your own ship by turning each room that you have into different places on the boat. (Or if you’re working with one large room, you’ll be setting up different corners as different areas of the ship). For example, your front hall can be the boarding area, the space next to your coat closet can be the luggage hall, the room you’ll be eating in can be the first class dining hall.
Don’t forget the third class lounge, where all the guests come to really have fun, the observation deck, morse code room, and a big sign that says to the lifeboats. Make up some signs to print out that use the White Star Line logo, that you can easily find on the internet, then set up your decor in little still lives on tables or in corners. It’s amazing how a little pile of carefully curated things can really suggest another time and place!
So, the centerpiece of the party is obviously your dining table setup. Even if you don’t have a formal dining room, see if you can move some furniture around and set up a folding table or two to serve as your big banquet table, so you can put together a really gorgeous tablescape that gives the feeling of a first class dining experience. Dig up your candlesticks, and charger plates, and fabric napkins. Make each place setting look like those diagrams of formal tables that explain where to put your multiple glasses and silverware. Put everything you have on that table! Then dim the lights and light those candles. Turn on some soft classical music for that old-fashioned feel.
And let me just tell you about the most fun part of the Titanic dinner party we once gave at the Storyteller’s Cottage. We were lucky enough to know a fantastic couple (Marcie & Gordon Swift) who played the harp and the fiddle, and they came and sat very seriously in the front hall and played live while they were wearing their life jackets! It made every single guest burst out laughing when they saw them.
So one more point about building your world. You can create a wide range of printables with just a computer and a free graphic design program like PicMonkey or Canva. You can make invitations that look like boarding passes and placecards that look like ID cards for the actual guests on the ship, and of course you can make a beautiful formal menu - just give yourself enough time to create and print and cut everything out well before the party.
Because there were three different “classes” of passengers on the Titanic, there were actually three different menus served on that last night. The first class passengers enjoyed an elaborate 10-course meal in the French style that included filet mignon, roast duckling, pate, oysters and four kinds of desserts. The second class passengers ate less but still quite a bit -- four kinds of meat and fish, plus appetizers, four side dishes, 3 desserts plus fruit and cheese …
... while the poor third class passengers literally ate gruel, biscuits and cheese that night (they did have a nicer luncheon, but their last meal was actually gruel).
So there’s a lot of source material to choose from when you build your own menu. Your creativity comes in as you decide how precisely you’d like to follow those original menus.
There’s a fantastic book by Veronica Hinke called “Last Night on the Titanic” that includes actual recipes that you can follow to recreate some of the fancier menu items like Oysters a` la Russe and Chicken and Wild Mushroom Vol-au-Vents if you’re up for a culinary challenge.
Or you might prefer to choose one or two items from each course and make them in a more modern way. For example, the first class menu included Salmon with Mousseline Sauce as an hors d'oeuvre. You can whip up a modern salmon spread very quickly by whizzing together some smoked salmon and cream cheese in a food processor and serving it with dill and capers on Melba toast crackers (which happened to be all the rage at the turn of the century).
It’s up to you whether you include elements from all three classes of menus, but don’t skip the actual printed menu to set at each guest’s plate. If you had nothing else at your party but these menus and a life buoy, your guests would still be falling over each other to compliment you on your fantastic worldbuilding skills.
Depending on how much space you have and how your rooms are arranged, you might like to spread out your food into several different rooms so it encourages your guests to move around and mingle.
You could set up champagne glasses or sparkling cider on a tray right near the front door that you can hand to the guests as they arrive (or they can just pick it up, or you could potentially even get a friend to dress up as Titanic serving staff and hand out the glasses). You can then display your hors d'oeuvres in a different room -- ideally one that has space for the guests to stand and chat with each other as the party gets started.